• Datum 16-01-2014
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2013 will go down in Italian film history as an exceptional year. For starters, theatrical exhibition showed an upward trend in admissions (6.5% up on the previous year). The locomotive was the comedy Sole a catinelle, seen by nearly 8 million people — an all-time record for a domestic production. The film uses the successful formula of placing a stereotypical character in a story that reflects everyday life in contemporary Italy. Certainly more interesting than the usual confections designed for release for the Christmas holidays, Sole e catinelle does however appeal to that same audience.
On another level altogether is Paolo Sorrentino’s La grande bellezza. Presented in competition at the Cannes Festival, the film succeeded in bridging the gap between auteur cinema and the box-office. Following his none-too-happy attempt to reach beyond national borders with This Must Be the Place, Sorrentino returns with a meditation on Italy, starting with its center, Rome. Fans of this director’s aesthetic, so precise in its sophisticated visual architecture and so lingeringly attentive to the surfaces of things, will certainly notice the way this ability to depict a country that has completely lost its senses, as cynical and disillusioned as the film’s protagonist, is matched by the performance of the extraordinary Toni Servillo, possibly the only actor who could withstand the inevitable ‘hard act to follow’ comparisons with his character’s fore-runner from La dolce vita.
2013 will also go down as the year in which Italian cinema managed to triumph at Venice and Rome, with two films made by directors as yet relatively unsung by critics and public. Gianfranco Rosi’s Sacro GRA is a journey into the human geography of Rome’s ring road. A ‘documentary’ that is able to connect its characters to the rich spectrum of Italian fiction film, from comedy of manners to neorealism, from science fiction to melodrama. In contrast to so many ‘social documentaries’ — which in Italy boast such a noble lineage — Rosi’s cinema is primarily concerned with delineating characters using cinematic means that define the spaces rather than the people. Both similar and dissimilar to the approach of Alberto Fasulo. His Tir — the surprise winner at Rome — is a film designed to blur the borders between fiction and documentary: a project that took four years and led to the choice of a notable Slavic actor to play the protagonist, who got a truck driving license and a job with a freight company for the role. Fasulo’s strength — already apparent in his previous film Rumore bianco — lies in the unique narrative role he assigns to sound, which conveys a whole world within the truck-driver’s confined environment that becomes almost a metaphor for the existential condition.
Alongside these two examples, 2013 demonstrated a whole web of original and audacious filmmakers. I am thinking of the directing partnership Martina Parenti and Massimo D’Anolfi, whose Materia oscura was selected for the Berlinale Forum; the highly idiosyncratic trajectory of Pippo Delbono, in competition at Locarno with his Sangue; and the fiction debut of Alessandro Rossetto, whose Piccola patria was selected for Venice and will be screened at Rotterdam. Despite the current economic crisis, decades of depression, and creative isolation, there are now real signs of movement.

Carlo Chatrian is Artistic Director of the Festival del Film Locarno